If you are a smoker and have fallen pregnant, you might be feeling a lot of pressure to quit; in fact, the anxiety and stress might make you want to smoke even more. But as you most probably know, smoking during pregnancy can have serious effects on both you and your baby.
Even if you are aware of the dangers of smoking, it’s not an easy habit to give up. The desire to smoke can overcome your good intentions, and you might find yourself trapped in a cycle of guilt.
It’s best to try to quit before becoming pregnant, but even women who stop smoking during pregnancy will reduce the risk of complications for themselves and their babies.
So, what are the effects of smoking while pregnant? This article will outline what you need to know, and where to go next for help.
Why Is It Dangerous To Smoke During Pregnancy?
There are more than 4000 chemicals in cigarette smoke, including over 60 chemicals that cause cancer. Other components are lead and cyanide, and two toxins that cause most complications in women who smoke – carbon monoxide and nicotine.
When you inhale cigarette smoke, these chemicals are absorbed into your bloodstream. Your baby’s nutrients and oxygen are absorbed from your bloodstream via the placenta.
Each time you inhale cigarette smoke, the carbon monoxide replaces some of the oxygen you would normally breathe in. Nicotine restricts blood vessels, reducing the amount of oxygen your baby receives.
How Smoking Affects Your Pregnancy
Statistics in the US, UK and Australia show around 10% of women smoke at some stage during their pregnancy.
Smoking increases your chances of serious complications of pregnancy, such as:
- Ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the uterus, usually in the Fallopian tube)
- Vaginal bleeding
- Premature rupture of the membranes
- Premature labour
- Placental abruption (placenta coming away from uterus wall before birth)
- Placenta previa (placenta covering the cervix)
- Fetal death.
How Smoking Affects Your Baby
Each time you inhale cigarette smoke, it has an immediate effect on your baby. The nicotine restricts blood vessels and reduces the effectiveness of your placenta, depriving your baby of the oxygen and nutrients essential for development and growth.
Effects of smoking on your baby include:
- Reduced oxygen, causing your baby to move less
- Low birth weight
- Birth defects, such as cleft lip and palate
- Risks to the development of lungs and brain
- SIDS risk after birth is increased by 25%.
Smoking during pregnancy can have long-term effects on your child’s health, such as:
- Impaired lung function
- Increased risk of asthma
- Low birth weight, which has complications such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure
- Increased risk of being overweight or obese in childhood
What Can I Do If I Smoke?
If you smoke cigarettes and plan on becoming pregnant, the best thing you can do is quit before conceiving. You increase your chances of fertility, and lower your risk of miscarriage and other pregnancy conditions. Smoking lowers the chance of conceiving by 40% each cycle, which can make getting pregnant a challenge.
If you’re still smoking when you find out you are pregnant, it’s not too late to quit. Research has shown women who quit smoking in their first trimester increase their chances of giving birth to a healthy full term baby to the same level as women who don’t smoke. Mothers who quit in the second trimester also raise their odds, but not as much as first trimester mothers.
The longer you smoke during pregnancy, the greater the risk of complications for you and your baby. If you stop in the first half of pregnancy, your baby is likely to be born a healthy weight, with a reduced risk of complications.
It might be helpful to identify what triggers your smoking. Do you smoke in social situations because you feel anxious? Do you smoke when you feel stressed? Do relationship problems leave you wanting to have a cigarette? Identifying a pattern can help you see which areas you need to focus on, or improve, or get help with. When we have more tools, we cope better, and we are less likely to look for a crutch.
Can I Use Nicotine Replacement Therapy?
It is best to try to quit without using nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). However, NRT is less harmful than smoking, as there is less nicotine being passed on to your baby, and no exposure to carbon monoxide and other toxins.
Forms of NRT usually considered during pregnancy are gum, lozenges, tablets or inhaler (not patches). It’s important to discuss NRT use in pregnancy with your care provider. The benefits of NRT might outweigh the risks of using NRT or continuing to smoke. Highly dependent smokers, who are more likely to have problems quitting smoking and are at greater risk for complications, can benefit from NRT.
Cravings, and being around others who smoke, can make quitting a challenge, so you need to have the support of your partner, family and friends.
There are support organisations available, and your care provider can advise you about the different ways to quit. You are more likely to succeed with the right support.
BellyBelly recommends the Allen Carr Method, which has a high success rate compared with other methods (based on research). Ideally, attend the seminar, or read the book, Allen Carr’s Easyway To Quit Smoking, which has led many people to putting out their cigarettes for good. Unlike patches or other medications, this method is completely safe for you and your baby, and equips you with tools that will leave you feeling like you don’t even need a cigarette – with no scare tactics. It could change your life.